Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The other night I was in a foul mood, with one thing after another going badly, and The Lovely Daughter asked, "What do you want, Mom?"

"I want Josh," I said.

Her eyes began to well up with tears, and so did mine, and I turned and walked back down the front hall. There was not going to be any comfort that night.

And in the wake of that conversation, I posted what I thought of as
a series of rhetorical questions. I did not expect answers, but two of the women with whom I share this journey have posted answers, along with another woman I have just met.

Susan, who lost a seven-year-old son two years ago to cancer, responded in the comments to the original post. Karen, who lost 12-year-old Katie to cancer two years ago, answered in
her own blog, as did Karen, the mother of 28-year-old Joey, who died two years ago of an unexpected complication due to epilepsy. Chris, whose daughter was lost to a rogue Mediterranean wave two years ago, says that she will write as well.

These women ~ they are so honest, so stark in their clarity. Their posts are poignant, raw, gentle, anguished. What it is like to hold a child as he or she dies. What it is like to learn that your child's precious body has lain undiscovered for hours or days. What it is like for your child's beauitful body to be rescued from the sea. What you have to do in the immediate afterward. What it is like a year or two later, when the capacity for small talk and concentration have vanished, when energy, will, desire and joy have all been disappointed. When you are aware that your grief over the one lost hampers your celebration of the ones here. When you keep trying.

I don't know what other people see or hear when they read these posts.

But it is the end of September and so I have begun to think about October 5, 1960, the day on which my mother and brother died, and October 11, the day on which my brother would have had his first birthday. I told my other brother last week that I had suddenly realized that I have no real memories of either of them. I have memories of moments, of scenes -- but it's as if I am watching a movie. I know this now because when I dream of Josh, in dreams in which he has appeared at several different stages of his life, he is as real to me as he ever was -- his voice, his expressions, his gestures, his posture. I do not have any of that for my mother and brother.

And part of the reason for that is that in 1960, in my world, people did not give space to grief. We did not remember out loud, we did not celebrate or honor memorial days, we did not tell our stories, of either their sorrow or of the people we loved in death as much as in life.

I do not know who we will be in five, or ten, or twenty years, we mothers who have lost so much. Not whom we had expected or planned on being ~ but perhaps by telling our stories and living into these futures we never would have sought, we are becoming women whose lives will be reflected by Gal's Yom Kippur prayer, worth repeating:

This is the vision of a great and noble life:
To endure ambiguity and to make light shine through it;
To stand fast in uncertainty;
To prove capable of unlimited love and hope.

Such eloquent words.

Such a difficult reality.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Gal wrote a wonderful piece here.

The High Holy Days are just behind us and, as always, she writes eloquently about motherhood, faith, disjunction, and loss. You should read her piece in its entirety. But here, this, from the prayerbook at her Yom Kippur services, I have to repeat:

This is the vision of a great and noble life:
To endure ambiguity and to make light shine through it;
To stand fast in uncertainty;
To prove capable of unlimited love and hope.

And as long as we are looking at faith and loss, Karen Gerstenberger also has a terrific post, here, in which numerous parallels between her experience and mine are apparent, particularly our difficulties in returning to home churches with their memories and our finding refuge in Catholic masses.

I can't say that the Catholics have a more developed theology of suffering than do the Presbyterians, but they certainly have, at least in my admittedly limited experience, a more developed daily expression of the continuum from catastrophe to restoration.

I am fascinated by how many of us find our faith homes disconcerting at best after such shattering losses, and how easily we now move into the ambiguities between distinct religious spaces.

Jewish. Protestant. Catholic. The longing for language to reflect the realities of dislocation, suffering, hope, and renewal ~ the same. The desire to mark our experiences as holy and locate them within a sacred tradition ~ the same. The losses ~ the same.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I Was So Right

The interlude was just that.

I can't figure out which is worse, getting a break or not.

A couple of weeks ago I spent Sunday morning at my field ed church, which is what I do on Sundays now, and as it was the first "real" Sunday of the new year, I was focused intently on what was going on. For about the last 45 minutes or so, I did not think about Josh.

And then I got out to my car and burst into tears and cried most of the way home, and decided that the wave that follows the lull is worse than no lull. Just a nice, steady, even keel of grief; that's the way to go.

But I don't get to control it, and so I've had a break for a few days. Not that I haven't thought about him all the time, but it's been easier, somehow.

Guess easier is over. As of about an hour ago.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


There is only one thing I want to know. I want to know your story, and yours, and yours. I want to know how you survived, or didn't. I want to know about those hours after 4:00 in the morning, when you wake up and stare at the ceiling, or read email, or try yet another Russian novel. I want to know what it was like when your child died, what it was like when the world broke apart. I want to know what it is like when you climb a mountain or drive to the coast and your child is not with you. I want to know whether your laughter feels different, whether your sight has changed. I want to know what you have to say about this part of the journey, this minute, knowing full well that in the next one your words might be completely different. I want to know about the moments when sheer, raw courage takes over ~ the moments when you put your feet on the floor next to the bed and stand up. I want to know about the moments right before that, the moments of sadness so deep that you cannot push your feet out from under the covers. I want to know how we are going to do this for years to come.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Michelle, Karen, Chris

Michelle ~ Point taken about the distinction between hope and comfort. You are brilliant. I think I have angrily and resentfully resisted offerings of hope because I have interpreted them as people wanting to bring comfort. I do not want to be comforted. I do, however, want to hope.

Karen ~ Truthfully (!) I am not particularly honest. I don't write about the darkest times, the blackest thoughts, except in my private journals, and I only share those feelings and experiences with one or two other people. I remember how shocked I was at first by some of the thoughts that other suicide survivors revealed in safe conversations, by what I was hearing when I was still too numb to articulate thoughts of my own. I am so glad that I said nothing, because I came to realize that the sky is not the limit, and that raw expressions of grief and horror have a way of emerging eventually. I don't have the energy to explain or defend that reality, however. And yet, to whatever extent we can move toward helping each other come to terms with our undesirable realities ~ that's a good thing.

Chris ~ I am so aware that tomorrow is your anniversary day. I think of your beautiful Sarah on the beach at home and on the path along the Italian Coast and I want to scream and shake the universe on your behalf. It is SO WRONG ~ but her life was SO RIGHT. Your beautiful, beautiful daughter ~ what a joyous light she was in this world and what a gracefulness of memory she has left even those of us who can know her only through you. Be well this week-end, dear Chris.

Friday, September 25, 2009


For some inexplicable reason, I am feeling pretty good, which is to say pretty neutral, this week.

I'm guessing that I have been on such overload that my psyche is protecting itself by taking a break.

I have absorbed a lot of sad news from elsewhere this week, and we are in the midst of family drama and sadness ourselves, so perhaps my frayed neurons have simply closed up shop for a bit.

I did almost start to cry in a class yesterday in which we are discussing issues pertaining to bodily resurrection. I managed to deflect most of my pain by talking about examples from the lives of other people rather than my own.

At some point I heard myself say that I have no beliefs about life after death right now. Later, trying to dissect what I had said, it seemed that the reasoning was obvious: It matters not in the least to me. All that matters is that my son is not here with me now. I know that other people find comfort in various beliefs about what is next; some (although I'm not sure who that would be) even find comfort in the convoluted framework posited by the Presbyterian Confessions. I don't. I give my classmates and professor credit, though, for their silence in the face of experience.

Now that I've written it down, it's hard to believe that not crying plus null belief constitutes a good week. I guess from a feeling perspective it makes sense; I am breathing, and much of the time I think I have forgotten to do that.

I suppose that this momentary sense of breathing in neutral means rough terrain lies ahead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I'm reposting this entry from last May, adding another book, and changing the Five Things Posts to Six.

The newest: Surviving Ben's Suicide: A Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery. Written fifteen years after the event, this book chronicles a woman's journey toward coming to terms with the death by suicide of her college boyfriend. She reflects on how difficult it was for her to find anything helpful for a "significant other" ~ someone who loves deeply but is not an "official" part of the family. I will always think of my son's girlfriend as part of our family, but I am sure that she has experiences similar to some of those depicted in this book. What I particularly love about this book is the author's insistence on the importance of memory in shaping how we live our lives ~ an antidote to the silence that surrounds suicide in particular and death in general.

Information about the other sidebar links:
Every Child Is Precious. I think it's an essay with some valuable information for those who care for or those who simply care about bereaved parents and siblings.

A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis's classic work, written after the death of his beloved wife (a story which many know through the movie Shadowlands). It's often been noted that A Grief Observed is a far superior book to his previous, more intellectual work The Problem of Pain, in that he makes no attempt to hide the raw agony experienced when it seems that God simply slams the door on God's way out.

Fierce Good-bye is a website devoted to the experience of suicide survivors. A couple of the pastoral care essays(offered from a variety of faith traditions) are excellent.

Lament for a Son is another classic, a series of short vignettes written by a father whose son died in a mountain-climbing accident. It was the first book several people either recommended or outright bought for me. He doesn't mince words and he addresses both the concrete realities we seldom think about unless we are forced to and the mystery of the baffling world of the bereaved family of a young adult child and brother.

My Son . . . My Son is a book that was given to me by the professor (and now friend of mine) who runs the program in which I am earning a certificate in spiritual direction. The mother who wrote it is a mental health professional who wondered, when she decided to go back to work, whether anyone would want anything to do with a counselor whose own son had died by suicide. Exactly what I wonder, I said, when she handed me the book. Who would ever see me as a pastor or spiritual director now? My friend looked at me and said, I know that's what you're thinking. That's why I'm giving you this book.

No Time To Say Good-Bye is a practical book. It covers a lot of ground and empasizes the importance of support groups. One of the Amazon reviews says that some of the descriptions of suicide are harrowing. I suppose one reaches a point where that becomes a relative term.

I've already linked to some of the
Ron Rolheiser columns. He's written a number of them on suicide and so, collected together, they can be a bit repetitive and overwhelming, but his insight into the grief of survivors and the loving God in whom we hope, when we can, is uniquely helpful, at least in my view.

Death and Art

Art Exhibit.

New York City.

Hat tip to
Judi Heartsong.

Monday, September 21, 2009

OK, I Admit It

I am insanely jealous, in a dissociated kind of way, of people who are talking about children going off to college, off to a new city, off to marriage, off to a new job, off to something or somewhere.

I had a hard time when Josh went off to camp for the first time. Age 10, 3 weeks, 600 miles away. We had the BEST time together driving down to North Carolina. But afterward I was in a near-comatose state until he came home.

And I had a hard time when he went to France 10 days or so after 9/11.

And I had a hard time when the Quiet Husband and all three kids were Katrina-stranded and my contribution consisted of watching the weather channel and occasionally yelling into the phone, offering brilliant assessments like "TULANE WILL NOT BE OPENING IN THREE OR FOUR DAYS."

But mostly I did not have a hard time, and that was because I remembered my grandmother saying that when her boys went off, she found great joy in knowing that they were happy and well and having adventures they could not have at home. And, she added, would you want them not to?


Saturday, September 19, 2009

To You, Contemplating Suicide

Yesterday someone unknown to me left a comment on this blog stating that she has "sort of, not really" thought about suicide.

That comment took my breath away. I started this little blog, knowing that a few, but only a few, people would read it, as a way of expressing something of the surface level of what I feel and experience and observe and wonder about as I try to survive the loss of my son. I had not thought about reaching out to anyone else ~ most days I feel as if I can barely reach for my toothbrush ~ or about my words having meaning to others inhabiting the same desert. For sure I had not thought about extending a hand to someone walking an even bleaker desert, the one where the sand is black and where no stars light the sky.

I am not a professionally trained counselor and so, although I have read reams of material on depression and on the thought processes that seem to lead to suicide, I have no idea and would not speculate on how that information affects someone who has taken any steps along that path. I can say three things, though, with some assurance:

If you have contemplated, or are contemplating, your own destruction, please seek help ~ no matter how exhausting or overwhelming or futile that effort seems. An act of suicide itself may be the immediate consequence of a lightning-quick decision, but a long and tortuous road has probably paved the way. A detour, even into a swamp, would be a very good thing.

I read this week that at least 50 people are profoundly affected by every suicidal death. The heartbreaking irony is that so many people who die by suicide think that their deaths will have little impact on those who know and love them, or even that few such people exist, when in fact the reverberations will be felt throughout the community that is theirs, probably for generations. And those reverberations will feel about as awful as anything possibly can feel.

And, finally: You are someone holy and precious. You are someone with gifts to share, in relationship with others and through the work that you have to give the world. You are someone whose very presence lights up a small patch of this earth. You are someone who should be able someday to look back on a long life and say, "Yes, I have experienced almost intolerable pain, but I have also seen great beauty and given something of worth." You are truly, in the most minute parts of your body and the smallest currents of your soul, an intricate creation and an exquisite treasure of your Creator ~ not someone to be carelessly discarded ~ but someone to be nurtured with gentleness and care.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fractured Life

Yesterday one of my professors, new to me this year, asked me, "Are you the woman who lost her son last year?" And then he said, "In the face of such loss, it is so difficult, impossible, for those of us who are pastors to know what to say."

"That's because there is nothing that you can say," I responded. "Silence is better than whatever painful and inadequate words you have."

I realize that it sound as if I have changed my tune. But I don't mean that ignoring a loss is better than not; I mean that some things can be honored only in the silence.

Even, or finally, by me.

Also yesterday, one of my friends told me that last year in one of his classes, another classmate said that he thought that death by suicide was a matter of laziness.

I suppose that in such a situation I would have things to say. I suppose that by the time I finished saying them, I would no longer be contemplating a future in ministry.

I used to say that I was one of those who experienced God more in God's absence than presence.

But this absence is so vast, this void so immense . . .

Some would say that God seems absent because God invisibly fills the wild dark void.


One of my best friends told me tonight that he cannot imagine me, after the past year, engaged in any form of traditional church ministry.

That would seem to me to be the case.

I walked six miles today. I think sometimes that I must be trying to walk to Pluto, or to another galaxy entirely, in the hope that from there I would have the perspective needed to see ~ what, exactly?

In my dreams we talk and talk, but I know that I am alive and he is dead.

For a long time, my idea of the afterlife was that it was where we would find things out. Why did the dinosaurs go extinct? How far does the universe extend? Do we have company on other planets somewhere? What is a black hole, exactly? Death as encyclopedia.

We used to take our children to Florida every year, and late on each last night, I would go out to the beach to say good-bye to the ocean. I would wade into the water and marvel at how black it was at night. The waves would roll in and recede, just as they did in the daylight, and sometimes the path of the moon shimmered across the sea. But the water swirling around my feet was always enigmatically opaque.

The silence is vast and empty, the gravitational pull of a black hole prevents the escape of light, and the sea is dark.

That is my report.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Suicide and Death (Not for the Faint of Heart)

"They are two completely diferent things."

I had breakfast a few days ago with a friend who also lost a 20-something son to suicide, nearly eight years ago. She said that she is trying to come to terms with the fact that the manner of her son's death has colored his view of his entire life.

"To lose a child to death is one thing. For that death to be a suicide is something else entirely."

A whole other trauma -- I completely agree. For me, the problem is not so much the manner of death. Well, of course, that is one of the problems. But, as my husband says, "NOT a choice. Why can we accept that something electrical goes haywire and someone dies of a heart attack, but we cannot accept that something chemical goes haywire and someone dies of depression?"

I can accept that. What is so troubling (among 10,000 other things) is the feeling of not having known who your child was, the realization that he was harboring a terrible pain, a pain that ultimately destroyed his life, and he did not share it. Or that he did share it but in ways that we did not see or hear. That's what colors my view backward. Now I wonder constantly: When? When did this horrific idea first occur to him? When did it become a rational solution? Was there a plan? Are we talking years? Months? Hours? Less?

Gregarious Son has been told by Someone Who Knows About These Things that most suicides happen very fast -- that it is often only a matter of minutes between decision and completion. She told him that preventative measures are notoriously unsuccessful.

Neither my breakfast friend or I can figure out anything at all about going to the upcoming suicide prevention walk. "How do you prevent something you have no idea is around the corner?" she asked. Exactly.

I think we have both had thoroughly impressed upon us with the force of a tsunami a reality having to do with complete lack of control. And we can't pretend otherwise. We can only try to live with what we have to live with: two completely separate nightmares in one.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Psalm 115

"I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living."

~ (Responsorial psalm at today's Mass.)

A statement of reality? Of hope? Of determination? Of will? Of desire? Of wistful thinking?

I walk in the other land as well.

I have these dreams. I think that I don't remember most of them because they are too disturbing for daylight and consciousness. But I remember some of them,

You understand why everywhere I go is a field of land mines.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Don't Ge Me Wrong ~

Jennifer, who's given me lots of support, left a comment on a previous post on Search the Sea indicating that I'm leaving the impression that my seminary is a place of discouragment.

Not the case ~ except in isolated (and yes, frustrating) circumstances. On the whole it's a gentle and supportive place. Certainly it's a friendly place. But I do experience it differently than most.

One of the struggles in coming to terms with traumatic and severe bereavement lies in the effort to forge a new identity, the old one having been irreparably torn to pieces. The geography and terrain are the same, the circumstances of life seem vaguely familiar, but your own boundaries and priorities are in flux, and there are going to be painful clashes.It seems to me that there are three basic ways of dealing with a loss like ours. We are all of us strung out along the spectrum, but still: three basic approaches.

First, you can dwell entirely in your grief. It may seem to some that I do that and, of course, sometimes I do. But I read a lot about surviving suicide, and I know well that there are many parents who remain almost completely dysfunctional years after the death of their child. It's tempting ~ every move toward life feels like an abandonment of your child, and sometimes in the constant pull between the place of despair and the place of hope, despair wins. And for some, despair wins almost all of the time, a situation about which I can make no judgment whatsoever.

Other extreme ~ you can deny deny deny and proceed with life as usual. I know a lot about this M.O., it being the one my family of origin has always practiced. There seems to be some kind of (entirely erroneous) belief that by not acknowledging horror publicly or out loud, you can alleviate the pain. I suppose such an approach does make it easier for those outside the immediate circle of grief ~ but in my experience it makes it more difficult and longer lasting for those within.

And finally, there is the approach I am trying out, in my own blundering, confused,and erratic way: I really do try to integrate what has happened with the reality that remains. That means that I say words like "suicide" out loud and that I express my anguish ~ more than others would like, no doubt, but far less than I feel it. It means that I recount funny and sweet stories about my son without self-consciousness. It means that I do not pretend that everything I have believed ~ about God, about the universe, about other people and my relationships with them ~ has not been drawn into question. It means that I still try to sort out the completely irrational from what few things still make sense and that I am trying to rebuild from scratch.

And it means that I am incredibly sensitive to what goes on around me, to things that seem ordinary to everyone else involved. It means that the most innocuous remark can feel like a knife scraping my skin off and that a genuine conflict, no matter how minor, feels like the top of a volcano flying off. It means that a sermon intended to be encouraging, and so perceived by everyone else who hears it, sounds like words of eternal damnation and hellfire to me.

It's been a year now. More than a year. It will be always, at least in this life. Life and death completely and always intertwined, altering all pathways of perception.And most certainly altering the experience of a seminary education.

Cross posted from Search the Sea.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I Guess I Need a Blogging Break

Apparently there's something in the water ~

I started my day by skimming some blogs and this was one of the things I read:

"For reasons that I can scarcely claim to understand, I have often felt most aware of God's loving care and presence in moments of great difficulty."

Then I made another try at going to church, first time I've ventured into my own church in weeks, and heard a beautiful, beautiful sermon on much the same theme.

But ~ that awareness at this kind of a time is not one of the things that happens to me. Except on rare occasions.

And so it was an excruciating morning from start to finish, exacerbated by some unexpected music at the end of the church service and by the news of another life lost to suicide.

I guess I'm going to go back to seminary this week and generally keep my mouth shut.

My experience is apparently too far our of the norm to convey.

Or maybe it IS the norm, and that's why our churches have emptied out.

Anyway. Time for a break.

And ~ oh, yeah. I'm doing Psalm 88 for my Hebrew exegesis paper. The one psalm out of all 150 of them of unremitting lament. It will take three months. Maybe, ironically, there will be a path out of this hell that way.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Walk in the Light

I have been told many times that it was a beautiful funeral service. I wouldn't know, although I did do everything that I could to make it so. As with most of that week, I remember some things with great clarity and others not at all.

My husband, my mother-in-law, and I wrote pieces to be read by others. I have attended several funerals in the past few years at which family members have themselves spoken, but we were all too numbed by shock and pain. We could hardly imagine even going to the funeral, let alone speaking from the pulpit or lectern. And after a summer of ministering to the incredibly sick and dying at Famous Giant Hospital, I was very much inclined to let others minister to me.

I wanted to say something though, and a couple of nights after Josh died it came to me in a rush, so I crawled out of the bed in which no one was sleeping anyway and headed for the computer. One of my friends of the past two decades read it with great composure at the service a few days later.


Josh spent his 11th grade year in France, and we all visited him over the winter break. His wonderfully loving and gracious French family welcomed us to a magnificent Christmas dinner, and we spent time getting to know his home city and exploring Paris and the coast of Normandy.

One of the places to which we traveled was Mont St. Michel, the tall and expansive medieval monastery that rises so astonishingly from the rock of a small island in the English Channel just off the northern coast of France. Josh had already been there with his school, and delighted in showing us the massive pillars and archways in one of the lower level, and the views out across the sea from the top. But his favorite place was the monks' refectory, or dining room, located high up in the monastery. "Wait 'till you see, Mom -- you can walk in the light!"

And indeed, you can. The refectory is lined with windows on either side, windows cut into the stone at a slight angle so that, as you walk the length of the room, the light seems to walk with you. The day we were there, the refectory was cordoned off with a rope, but no one was around, certainly no one official. "You have to see this," announced Josh, and so we ducked under the rope and walked up and down the thousand-year-old stone floor,with the light accompanying us, step by step, window by window. We walked in the light at the top of Mount St. Michel, as the monks must have done for hundreds of years before us.

Josh's love for the nuances of light and dark, for the possibilities inherent in design and material -- the parts of him that made him a wonderful photographer and potential architect -- were so in evidence that day. The sense of adventure that took him to camp in North Carolina as a small boy, and to Europe to study as a teenager, and to travel with his brother as a college student, was in full swing, as was his deep love for the people he cared about: his French family, as well as us.

Oh, Josh. If only the light had stayed with you for all of the short time you were with us. Walk in the light now, my darling Josh. Walk in the light now.

Refectory image here.

Mont St. Michel image here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Anniversary Day

The morning is sunny and clear and crisp as she wanders into the back of the church where she meets one of the priests who have been her mainstays for the past year. The two of them sit in one of the pews of the cavernous sanctuary and talk and pray for an hour. That makes how many hours in the company of Jesuits over the past few days? She has no idea where they have found the time and the patience to listen and listen, and read email after email, month after month. She is not asking.

She spends the day taking walks and reading her email and FB notes and listening to multiple versions of Hallelujah over and over again. Her brother calls, as he does every couple of days. Her father doesn't. At noon the regular mail arrives, bringing more cards and one of the most extraordinarily beautiful letters she has ever received. Blogging has its rewards.

It seems that candles are being lit all over the place. Her own candle is lit and re-lit, as she and her husband come and go during the day.

As the afternoon turns to evening, she and her family go down the hill to the university, where with about 30 friends they take a leisurely walk past places meaningful to her son. The auto and aviation museum where, impassioned about planes, he volunteered during the summer before high school. The Gehry building which had fascinated him. The university soccer field, emblematic of the many fields on which he played across several states and two countries. The art institute where he studied photography while he was in high school. She spends most of the walk deep in conversation with her son's lower el (1st-3rd grade) teacher. He clearly treasured that small boy, and is trying as hard as everyone else to put the pieces together.

They start back up the hill through Little Italy and spend the rest of the evening on the outdoor patio of one of the restaurants, tiny lights twinkling above them. Friends from 20-plus years of Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Friends and teachers from Montessori days. Grown children who, until last year, had spent nearly every Christmas together. It's interesting to see where the longest and strongest connections have been soldered together; they seem to have been borne out of the preschool and elementary school parenting and teaching years. Those magical times somehow created the possibility that adults and grown children might one day face down sorrow together.

The day is filled with love and compassion, friendship and presence. If only her son had remembered in those dark hours how filled with riches his life was.


I was surprised, I admit it, by the positive response to yesterday's post. The lyrics to Hallelujah are disturbing, regardless of which version you're talking about. (One website says there are 15 verses in total, appearing in various recordings.)

I think I first heard Hallelujah at the end of the season finale of the third season of West Wing. C.J. Cregg, the White House press secretary, and Simon Donovan, the secret service agent assigned to her in the wake of a series of threats, have fallen in love; to their mutual astonishment and relief, the perpetrator has been arrested, meaning that they are finally free to pursue their relationship. The President is attending a theatrical production in New York, from which he withdraws to discuss with Leo the decision he is making to assasinate a foreign leader. And presidential advisor Josh Lyman is arguing with his girlfriend, women's rights activist Amy Gardner, who has just lost her job due to White House machinations.

The clip below opens with Simon's murder. It's quick and it's violent, but I'm going with this version because the speed and power of the violence reflect the experience of sudden and startling death so well. The important part for me, though, lies in about 1:00-2:45. I've always been very fond of the character of C.J. Cregg, who is tall and elegant (I wish) and whose last name sounds exactly like mine (even though it's spelled differently), but in these scenes, with her response to the news of Simon's death and the images of the investigative scene where she is not present, there are mirrors to my own life that go far beyond the elusive personal qualities and last name. Our son did not die from a gunshot wound, but almost all suicide deaths involve police investigations of the scene and body, and almost all sudden deaths involve notifications to loved ones who are plunged into a state of numbed shock before the first spoken sentence is complete.

And the song? Some of the lyrics are a mystery to me, some are overtly sexual, and all of them blend the human longing for others and for God that becomes so potent in times of bewilderment and loss. I hear so many voices in this song, layering over one another through a phrase here, a verse there: the voices of David and Bathsheba, of Samson and Delilah, of men and the women they love, of women and the men they love, of brothers and sisters who love one another, of mothers and fathers and the sons and daughters they love. To me it's a song of lament for a time when loss and love crash against one another in a sudden and violent cataclysm of destruction. "And love is not a victory march; it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah" ~ the words could be Zosima's in The Brothers Karamasov, which I've quoted repeatedly in the past year. "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing in real life as opposed to love in dreams."